Preview: Washington Wizards

2017-18 Washington Wizards


Projected Record: 46-36 (4th in East)

Over/Under: 47.5

2016: 49-33 (4th in East)


Key Additions:

  • G Tim Frazier
  • F Mike Scott
  • G Jodie Meeks

Key Subtractions:

  • G/F Bojan Bogdanovic
  • G Brandon Jennings

Summary

Strengths:

  • Excellent starting lineup
  • John Wall is a superstar
  • Continuity

Weaknesses:

  • Bench is still weak
  • Limited options for external improvement

The Wizards’ saving grace is their starting lineup, which has to rank among the best starting fives in the NBA. John Wall is a superstar, and Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are excellent second and third options along side him. Markieff Morris sets the tone with his physicality and effort and helps space the floor with his shooting, while Marcin Gortat does all the little things – setting tough screens, crashing the glass, boxing out, rolling to the rim. These five know each other as well as any group in the league, and if they stay generally healthy, they can carry this team into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.

Last year, problems started to arise as soon as the starters began to rotate off the court. The Wizards were miserable when Wall and Beal both sat, as Trey Burke, Tomas Satoransky, and Brandon Jennings failed to carry their weight for those minutes. Staggering the pair can only go so far, particularly considering Beal’s injury history, which would make me uncomfortable giving him a second consecutive season playing close to 35 minutes per game. Tim Frazier was a decent addition; he’s probably better than any of Washington’s backup point guards last year, but he’s still a minus as a scorer and derives most of his value from his passing. If he’s better than a replacement-level player, it’s only by a small margin.

The Wizards will need a lot out of 22-year-old wing Kelly Oubre this season, as he has perhaps the highest upside of any of the players on their bench right now. He has the upside of a useful 3-and-D contributor right now, but he hasn’t actually lived up to that reputation just yet – in fact, his three-point shooting actually regressed down to 28% last season. The Wizards’ bench has some shooting – Jodie Meeks and Jason Smith will knock down their shots – but that’s something you can’t have too much of, and Oubre doesn’t contribute in many other ways offensively. The stat that blows my mind: he dished only 47 assists in his 1605 regular season minutes last season, good for an assist rate of only 4%. Four percent!

John Wall is one of the players for whom the phrase “makes his teammates better” is very specifically accurate. The Wizards just play better in every phase when Wall is on the court. There are only a handful of players in the league who can elevate a team the way he can, and the Wizards will need him to, especially when it comes to their collection of spare parts on the bench.


Most Valuable Player: John Wall

Wall had the best season of his career last year in guiding the Wizards to their fourth-place finish in the East and taking the Celtics to seven games in the semifinal round. He’s a nightmare matchup physically for any guard in the league, and he’s a gifted passer who has the skill and vision to set his teammates up exactly how they need to be. Wall is durable and skilled, and he’s exactly the player the Wizards need.

That said, there is still room for Wall to improve, as I don’t believe he’s in the same tier as guards like Russell Westbrook or James Harden. The jump shot is still flawed – he shot only 32% last season and has hit 35% in a season only twice in his career – and he can be an inefficient scorer when he tries to take over games. Despite largely being very good in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year, he did shoot a miserable 39.8% from the field and 28.6% from behind the arc. Wall also tends to fall asleep on defense at times, despite his immense defensive potential; Avery Bradley roasted him at times in that series with off-ball cuts he wasn’t watching for.

This isn’t to put down Wall, as all great players have holes and his strengths far outweigh his weaknesses. The prospect that he could actually stand to improve still is scary, though, to say the least.

X Factor: Ian Mahinmi…?

It’s honestly hard to decide who exactly fits the definition of “X Factor” for the Washington Wizards, because so much of this roster is a known quantity or frankly sort of irrelevant. Is it Otto Porter, fresh off his new contract extension? Perhaps Kelly Oubre, the 22-year-old who looks to be Washington’s most important bench contributor? Jason Smith, Tim Frazier, or Mike Scott? Ehh.

I’m going with Mahinmi, I guess, because he’s making $16 million this season after playing 31 games last year, and the Wizards desperately need the help on their bench. I don’t think Mahinmi is a particularly great player – he’s mostly just a decent rebounder and rim protector – but the Wizards have already spent a lot of money on this roster and their external options to improve are limited. If he can give them a solid 20 minutes per game over 60-70 games this year – or if they can unload him to somebody at the deadline – he could help stabilize this roster quite a bit.


Conclusion

John Wall and the Wizards’ eternal starting five all but ensure the Wizards will be a decently seeded Eastern Conference Playoff team this year. They’ve simply played with each other too long and too well to not. As with last year’s squad, though, the bench is a significant concern; Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks, and Mike Scott are quality signings, but not the kinds of guys that completely shore up the team’s needs. Kelly Oubre needs to show more development, and Ian Mahinmi needs to give them some kind of return on his massive contract.

It’s a bit of a cliche statement, considering it could be true for most teams in basketball, but the Wizards absolutely cannot afford to suffer too many injuries this year. John Wall and Bradley Beal are of particular importance; they might be able to stay afloat for a short period of time without one, but losing either (or both) for a long period of time would be devastating. This team just doesn’t have the depth to overcome it.

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